Shakedowns are complete and the scene is set for the inaugural Extreme E event in Saudi Arabia this weekend (3-4 April), the Desert X Prix in the books and drivers excited to take to the course to see who can claim first bragging rights.
Alejandro Agag, Founder and CEO of Extreme E, said: “This is a very special day. Extreme E was such an out-of-the-box idea that many people didn’t think it would ever happen – even I didn’t know if we would get to this day. In these COVID times, it would have been impossible to organise this event without the incredible support of our hosts and our teams, and I must thank Saudi Arabia for welcoming us. We are getting ready for something amazing this weekend.
“I call Extreme E the biggest experiment ever seen in motorsport, and this weekend is like a test and race all at the same time. We have an amazing line-up – if you add up all the world championships on the grid amongst drivers and team owners, there are more than 40 in total. Then we have the gender equality aspect and the major innovation of the Command Centre, which sees us putting all of these rivals together in the same room. It’s incredible, and these electric SUVs are going to put on a great show. We’re ready to race!”
His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al Faisal, Chairman of the Saudi Automobile & Motor Federation, added: “Motorsport is very important to us. We have a big population that likes motorsport and entertainment, and have been working with Alejandro since 2017 on Formula E, which marked our first major international motorsport event. We are very honoured to be working with Alejandro and his team again on such an ambitious new project. We are from the desert and have the best place for rallies, so to combine electric technology with rallying means Extreme E really fits well with our plans for sustainability and the future in Saudi Arabia.
“We are blessed to have different types of scenery and landscapes in Saudi Arabia, and this is one of the most spectacular areas. We wanted to share what we have, especially here in AlUla and also play our role in making the environment and the world safer. We are on a mission to safeguard our planet and preserve it for future generations, and this aligns very well with Vision 2030 and showing people around the world both our heritage as well as where we are heading.”
All 18 competitors had the opportunity to sample the 18km course – centred around three canyons in the vast desert surrounding AlUla – behind the wheel of the ODYSSEY 21, giving them their first taste of what the weekend will have in store. In-between the two sessions, a number of them participated in a live-streamed press conference to offer their thoughts on the series and the action ahead.
Jenson Button, JBXE driver, said: “It’s exciting to be here, with so many great teams and drivers from around the world. It’s very special to be a part of this. It’s been great to share the dirt with those guys, although my world championship obviously came on asphalt, so it’s been a bit of a shock! I’ve done a bit of off-roading before in a rally car, but nothing like this in the sand and the ODYSSEY 21 is a very different vehicle – I’ve never previously driven four wheel-drive. It’s certainly extreme. You’re playing with the steering wheel the whole time and the course is insane!
“I like the idea of individual qualifying, because we can really push the car to the limit and get a feel for what it can do. My team are doing a fantastic job and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they progress through this season. I’m definitely not ready yet – it’s going to take a bit of time and we’re constantly learning, which is what I want to do – but it’s a great experience and I’m really enjoying it. It gives me a big rush of excitement.”
Sara Price, Segi TV Chip Ganassi Racing driver, said: “I’m so honoured to be here – in the world of off-road racing, you have no idea how big this is. It’s pretty incredible to have the whole of our industry watching us, and when somebody told me this morning that I was making history as the first driver to take to the course, it’s just crazy and so cool. It’s already been such a journey and an adventure. I’m very grateful and glad to be a part of something that means so much.
“I’ve been very lucky in my career to get a lot of opportunities to hop into some incredible machines, but I never had a money tree in my backyard so could never afford to do much testing. I think that’s made me very good at adapting quickly to different vehicles, which is exactly what we’re doing here in Extreme E – it’s all about having minimal time, jumping in and figuring it out as fast as you can. I think my off-road background is definitely a positive, but it’s going to be a challenge for everyone.”
Stéphane Sarrazin, Veloce Racing driver, said: “It’s incredible to be contesting the first-ever Extreme E event in such an extraordinary setting. This is a great opportunity to be part of something shaping the future, because there’s no question for me that electric is the future for motorsport.
“All the drivers here have amazing experience – they’re all top drivers. Maybe I have a small advantage on the electric side from Formula E, so I need to ensure I make the most of that. My team-mate Jamie [Chadwick] is really fast and we spent some time together at my rally school in France where she improved a lot on the gravel. Her background is obviously in circuit racing, but she’s very open-minded and keen to learn and we have a very good relationship.”
Timmy Hansen, Andretti United driver, said: “Both on a professional level and personally, this is a huge adventure. It’s about something bigger than ourselves, the race car is cool and the course is fun. It’s obviously very different to the testing we did last year, but the car feels great and seems to suit the track very well. To go racing without much practice time is just the kind of challenge I love. The level of adrenaline is very high.
“My team-mate Catie [Munnings] has been really good to work with. She’s still young and is taking a massive step up now to four wheel-drive, but she has a lot of talent and a great attitude. I’m also proud and very lucky to be representing two such massive motorsport names as Andretti and United. It’s an incredible team, and I will do everything I can not to let them down. We’ve all tried to prepare as well as we can and this is where it counts, which is very exciting. Ok, I haven’t participated in 15 Dakars or whatever it is like [Carlos] Sainz, but I will certainly do my best...”
Mattias Ekström, ABT CUPRA XE driver, said: “I’ve got many reasons to be happy being here. The older you get, the wiser you get and my main priority is to enjoy it all and have a good time. Extreme E is all about short, fast action, making it perfect for Cupra as such a cool brand, and obviously ABT as an organisation know how to win.
“After driving the track this morning, I think it’s fair to say the second sector is the tricky one, with different lines and blind crests. I think the biggest difference will be made there. The excitement will come when you have to squeeze the limit of the laps in qualifying and the races. It will be critical to really focus, nail your preparation and then go out and smash it – because if you don’t do that, you won’t reach the final.”
Laia Sanz, ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team driver, said: “I’ve got such a mixture of emotions. I’ve always been a fan of Carlos [Sainz – team-mate] since I was very young, so you can imagine how excited I was when he called me. He’s very professional and super competitive, so I’m sure I have the best teacher possible and can learn a lot from him.
“It won’t be easy up against all these champions and the other drivers all have much more experience than me on four wheels, which adds a bit of pressure. Coming from bikes, I have very little prior experience behind a steering wheel and no experience of electric technology, but I’ve been testing with Carlos which helped me to feel a bit more confident. I do feel a little bit at home here from my Dakar experience on the sand, but I have two more wheels to get to grips with so I definitely need time. This is a huge learning curve for me, and I have to adapt very quickly.”
Johan Kristoffersson, Rosberg X Racing driver, said: “We did a recce of the track yesterday; it looked spectacular and challenging then, and when I got out there with the race car today, it lived up to all of those expectations. It’s going to be very competitive with a lot of experienced teams, but Nico [Rosberg] has assembled a team with a bunch of winners and the guys have done a fantastic job with the car – everything was spot-on, which let me go out and do my thing on-track.
“The driving itself is quite different to what I’ve been used to overall. Some elements I can take from rallycross, some from rallying and some from circuit racing, so I think I can use bits and pieces from what I’ve done in the past. There’s so much that is new for everyone in the paddock so we have to try to adapt, and that will be the key to the championship this year. I think the team and drivers that adapt the fastest will have a good chance. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow when we finally go racing.”
Nico Rosberg, Rosberg X Racing Founder and CEO, said: “Since my F1 career ended, I’ve been focussed on sustainability and when Alejandro Agag called me and told me about Extreme E, for me it was the perfect match. To combine my passion for racing and sustainability in the same project is awesome. We’ve been out this week helping turtles and removing plastic from the beach, and of course that’s not big impact on its own but what we want to do is raise awareness of the problems the world is facing and show that we care.
“We are here to compete to win and I’m really happy to have Johan [Kristoffersson] and Molly [Taylor] on-board. I love how they work together and seeing that team collaboration. In my career, my team-mate was always my biggest enemy in the world, whereas here it’s all about helping each other. That’s a new dynamic in the team and it brings a lot of positivity, which both drivers really embrace.
“I will try the car myself at some point, but I want to show my respect and don’t want to make Johan look too slow, haha! Although yesterday when I saw that drop in the course, I thought I’m quite happy to be in the team boss role rather than in the car!”
Carlos Sainz, ACCIONA | Sainz XE Team driver, said: “I’m happy to be here and trying this new way of motorsport. It’s a great opportunity and I want to approach it a little bit more relaxed. It was really interesting to spend time with the scientists on the ship, helping us to better understand what is going on in the world with global warming, CO2 and the coral reefs. When somebody explains it to you with the clarity that they did, it’s clear we need to do something and the message that comes out from this championship needs to be strong.
“On the racing side, it has been a difficult day for me with not much time to discover the car [following a power steering pump failure], so we couldn’t learn much. That means I’ll go directly into qualifying tomorrow and I’m sure I will encounter some surprises on my first run, but I’ll push as much as I can. At the end of the day, it’s not just me – it’s a combination of both drivers. Laia [Sanz – team-mate] has done really well on two wheels and has a great approach. Her experience of driving a car is minimal, but I think she has great potential and can learn quickly. I will support her and try to teach her as much as I can.”
Sébastien Loeb, X44 driver, said: “Extreme E is a completely new universe for me in every aspect, from the electric side to teaming up with a female driver. It’s a new era for motorsport, and I’m happy to be a part of it from the start. I’m proud that the best F1 driver in the world today took me as a driver for his team and I will do my best to enjoy it and fight for podiums and wins.
“Today was about trying to get a feeling for the car and the track and generally gaining experience. The car worked well with no major problems. It’s very different here to the test at MotorLand Arágon last year, which was much twistier; here, we have fast sections and crests and it’s not easy to keep the car straight, but everything is going well so far.”
The competitive action gets underway tomorrow (Saturday, 3 April), with four qualifying time trial sessions from 09h00 local time. Sunday (4 April) is then reserved for the semi-finals and final, which will culminate in the crowing of Extreme E’s very first X Prix winner.
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